Amid all the recent tumult and speculation, it seems a good week to risk some contemplative thought, a quiet entry really. I’m brought to it by a passage from Thoreau’s Journal in April, 1854. Amid all the observations of pollinating plants, returning birds and first flowers (which reminds me of the current exhibition, (Early Spring: Henry Thoreau and Climate Change,) at The Concord Museum (see link below and more about this exhibit after I’ve visited), Thoreau is watching himself closely too. Not long before this date, he received the proofs for Walden, which will be published that summer, and here and there, we get glimpses of his passage through its pages.
Here’s one from April 8th: “I find that I can criticize my composition best when I stand at a little distance from it, — when I do not see it, for instance. I make a little chapter of contents which enables me to recall it page by page to my mind, and judge it more impartially when my manuscript is out of the way. The distraction of surveying enables me to take new points of view. A day or two surveying is equal to a journey.”
Ah, I say to myself, there’s the doublemeaning man of whom I’m so fond – the “distraction of surveying” is a wonderful phrase. Yes, he is away from the pages of Walden, and surveying’s measurements are surely distracting from the line-by-line review of what he has written. But only a mind as alive as Thoreau’s could see distraction in the exact angles of divvying land and imagining immaculate lines upon it. After a long day of snapping lines across the landscape, Thoreau seems freshly able to see his own lines of prose amid his book’s geography. To be distracted and so refreshed by close observation seems actually to be Thoreau’s method…of discovery…of living.
Here, from a day earlier is this observation: On the Cliff I find, after long and careful search, one sedge above the rocks, low amid the withered blades of last year, out, its little yellow beard amid the dry blades and a few green ones – the first herbaceous flowering I have detected.
A day or two of such surveying “at a little distance,” yielding, among other sights, “the little yellow beard amid the dry blades,” surely is “equal to a journey.” Are we not fresh-eyed when we return from our journey, having examined, say, the rough corrugation of a white pine or the torpid pose of a water snake waiting for the sun’s crawl to reach him? Do we not see more when we bend to survey our everyday words and work?
May we all “survey” and “journey” so.
The Concord Museum Exhibition Link:http://www.concordmuseum.org/concord-museum-early-spring-exhibition.php